US Stealth Bomber Crash: Pentagon Decides To AXE The ‘Irreparable’ Warplane Damaged In 2022 Accident

The US Air Force has outlined plans to divest one of its B-2 Spirit stealth bombers damaged in an accident. The move will further reduce its already diminutive fleet of stealth bombers.

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The B-2 Spirit bomber occupies a central role in the United States’ strategic arsenal, serving as a critical deterrent against potential adversaries and projecting power across the globe. Its ability to strike deep into enemy territory with precision-guided munitions enables it to neutralize high-value targets, disrupt enemy command and control systems, and degrade hostile defenses, thereby shaping the outcome of conflicts and deterring aggression. Moreover, its nuclear capability underscores its role as a cornerstone of America’s nuclear triad, providing a credible and survivable deterrent against nuclear threats.

This accident would count as one of the costliest crashes in USAF history, just behind another B-2 crash in 2008.

The decision was unveiled in April in a Pentagon force structure change report. The targeted B-2, presumed to be involved in an emergency landing and subsequent fire at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri on December 10, 2022, will not undergo repairs. 

The incident resulted in a six-month grounding of the entire B-2 fleet, with operations only resuming after a thorough safety evaluation. 

The choice to dispose of the aircraft despite having only 20 B-2s in operation, one of which is damaged, highlights the difficulties of sustaining a small fleet of extremely specialized aircraft. 

According to the Pentagon report, the decision is attributed to the uneconomical nature of repairing the aircraft following the ground accident. Specific details regarding the incident, repair costs, or the decision-making process remain undisclosed. 

A similar incident occurred in 2021, after which the affected B-2 aircraft was transported to Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, California, for extensive repairs. 

Although the US Air Force did not reveal the repair cost for that particular case, an initial assessment suggested it would be at least $10.1 million. 

The B-2 Spirit bombers, integral to America’s nuclear deterrent triad, are renowned for their advanced stealth capabilities and operational versatility. The complexity of B-2 aircraft, characterized by their advanced composite structures and sensitive exterior coatings, contributes to the high costs associated with maintenance and repairs. 

Even minor mishaps often result in major expenses and logistical challenges. These factors possibly influenced the Air Force’s decision regarding the damaged bomber. 

As described in the April Pentagon report, the damaged aircraft is “presumed to be uneconomical to repair.” That underscores the complex considerations determining the viability of restoring such highly advanced platforms.

As the Air Force prepares to divest the damaged B-2, questions regarding the broader implications for the B-2 fleet remain. The B-2 aircraft will eventually be succeeded by the USA’s most advanced bomber, the B-21 Raider, which is currently in the developmental phase. 

B-2 Crash
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Costliest Crash In USAF History 

The B-2 Spirit bomber stands out as an emblem of American technological prowess and military might. However, even the most advanced machines are not immune to failure, as evidenced by the infamous B-2 crash of 2008. 

On February 23, 2008, the B-2 Spirit was on a routine mission. Having completed its four-month stint in Guam, B-2, known as the “Spirit of Kansas,” was slated to return to its home base at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. With over 5,000 flying hours logged, there was no indication of any imminent danger as it taxied for takeoff.

However, the B-2 Spirit became uncontrollable during takeoff, leading to a catastrophic outcome. Despite the efforts of the skilled pilots at the helm, the aircraft’s wingtips made contact with the ground, spelling doom for the “Spirit of Kansas.” 

With no alternative left, both pilots were forced to eject from the stricken bomber just moments before it was engulfed in flames. Airbase personnel swiftly recovered both pilots. One pilot sustained minor injuries, while the other suffered compression fractures in his spine as a result of the ejection process, eventually making a full recovery. 

The wreckage of the aircraft burned for six hours, and bits of the aircraft were spread over a field of more than four acres. The aftermath of the crash carried a staggering financial burden. 

B-2 accident – Wikipedia

The cost of the loss was estimated at a jaw-dropping $1.4 billion. This incident not only marked the first operational loss of a B-2 Spirit bomber but also stood out as the most expensive airplane crash in USAF history. 

Investigations into the incident uncovered a critical flaw in the aircraft’s Flight Control System (FCS), which relied on data from Port Transducer Units (PTUs) to make flight decisions. 

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These PTUs, responsible for calculating crucial environmental data such as airspeed and altitude, were compromised by moisture accumulation due to Guam’s high humidity. This led to the FCS receiving inaccurate information, resulting in erroneous flight maneuvers and the eventual crash.

Crucially, it emerged that maintainers had previously noted issues with PTU data during a 2006 deployment to Guam but failed to pass on recommendations to activate PTU heaters to dry them out before takeoff. 

This oversight, coupled with the absence of formal procedures, contributed to the tragic outcome in 2008. As a direct response to the crash, the Air Force implemented a new standard preflight procedure mandating the activation of PTU heaters, aiming to prevent similar incidents in the future.